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How No-Till Cannabis Farming Methods Can Improve Your Crop

March 28, 2017
How No Till Cannabis Farming Methods Can Improve Your Crop
There are two major problems casting a shadow over cannabis cultivation as a whole: chemical safety and sustainability. Although these problems are not exclusive to the cannabis industry, their unique impact on both the industrial and cottage markets as well as with home growers alike is noticeable.

A potential solution to both of these problems lies in a farming practice known as “no-till gardening.” This technique incorporates organic practices and natural systems to create a thriving environment conducive to growing healthy plants with less input. No-till  gardening is both organic and sustainable, offering a safe and efficient way of cultivating cannabis without the need for chemicals and wasted energy.

What Is ‘No-Till’ Farming?

What Is “No Till” Farming?

Contrary to conventional agricultural practices which involve mechanically disturbing the soil, no-till farming incorporates natural mechanisms that leave soils undisturbed. This principle is based on the foundation building a thriving biology within the soil, a process which is severely compromised when a soil is tilled.

No-till farming and organics go hand in hand, building upon the philosophy that natural systems within the soil will provide the plants with fully bioavailable nutrients with very little need for external input. These natural systems work together in symbiosis to support a flourishing biological community ripe with fungi, bacteria, and more.

What Are the Benefits of No-Till Methods for Growing Cannabis?

What Are the Benefits of No Till Methods for Growing Cannabis?
With traditional cannabis farming techniques, soils are either tilled and amended with nutrients between plant cycles or tossed out altogether. While these practices can be highly effective for growing cannabis, they aren’t very efficient as the never-ending need for chemical inputs and the consistent tilling or tossing of soils is anything but promotional to building a soil biology.

No-till cannabis farming, on the other hand, eliminates the need for input altogether by letting nature do all of the work. This saves not only time and money, but the hassle of having to worry about using potentially harmful chemical inputs such as pesticides or plant growth regulators. Furthermore, untilled soils can be reused for years on end with almost zero input whatsoever, making this the most sustainable way to cultivate cannabis.

Common Misconceptions About No-Till Farming

Common Misconceptions About No Till Farming

One misconception about no-till cannabis farming is that this practice is difficult to scale in either direction. This couldn’t be further from the truth. No-till farming is just as accessible to the home grower using 3-gallon pots as it is to the top tier farmer cultivating on a massive scale. The power of no-till lies within building a thriving soil food web. This concept can be successfully achieved in any spacial capacity, offering the same security and sustainability.

Another common misconception with no-till farming is that it promotes pest populations. This is only partially true. A thriving soil microbiology is teeming with all sorts of life. Fungi, bacteria, nematodes, mites, worms, protozoa, and even larger insects and animals all encompass the web of life that can exist in a fully charged, untilled organic soil medium. These lifeforms are not only beneficial to the plants themselves by making nutrients in the soil more bioavailable, they actively control harmful pest populations such as spider mites and fungus gnats through naturally occurring systems.

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One of the worst misconceptions about no-till cannabis farming is that the practice is incapable of producing the same quality and quantity that traditional agricultural methods can. Nature itself is a perfect example of why this isn’t the case. The richest ecological environments in the world are those least disturbed.

Take the old growth Redwood forests in the Pacific Northwest for example. The microbiological climate in this part of the country is staggering as a result of the undisturbed natural mechanisms that have been in place for thousands of years. In these same regions, cannabis farmers are utilizing similar techniques to produce some of the industry’s leading products in terms of flavor, yield, and safety standards.

Creating a No-Till Cannabis Garden at Home

Creating a No Till Cananbis Garden at Home
If you want to incorporate no-till farming practices into your home cannabis garden, getting started is both simple and surprisingly inexpensive. Start by building yourself a super soil using a mix of organic ingredients such as composts, amendments, and a bit of aeration through the form of perlite or lava rock. Mix these ingredients together and use them as your grow medium.

Because your cannabis will need certain macronutrients at certain times, layering the topsoil with various cover crops will eliminate the need for consistent amendments to the soil. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops are a great way to get macronutrients back into your soil.

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Amending your super soil with worms is a great way to promote the production of fresh compost, otherwise known as “vermiculture.” In this system, worms digest decomposing organic material and create castings that replenish the soil with valuable nutrients, eliminating the need for the external input of fertilizers. With worms, growers are encouraged to add organic matter to their topsoil, a healthy worm snack that promotes healthy decomposition while constantly adding life back into the soil.

Whether it be to eliminate the use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and other costly and potentially unsafe inputs, or to save money and time by reusing soils, no-till farming is continuing to rise as a viable alternative to traditional cannabis agricultural practices. Both top-tier cannabis farms and home growers alike can harness the powers of no-till farming for a safer and more sustainable crop that saves time and money. With little to no input overt time, no-till farming could very well be the safe, sustainable answer that the cannabis industry has been looking for.

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • Steven Byrd

    Hello, As I read this article I’m wondering about the weeds taking over within the rows. As we all know weeds can choke out and suck nutrients from the soil harming or weakening the product being grown,

    • Alex Dubois

      If you plant cannabis for flower then weeds can be an issue. That’s why we never leave the soil bare. A good quality mulch made up of either wheat straw or ground wood chips will suppress the weeds and hold in the moisture.

  • Alex Dubois

    This is a good topic for an article, but some of the particulars are inconsistent with accepted agricultural practices! I produce organic fertilizer for the organic cannabis growing community as well as organic food producers. I am very familiar with limited till growing and organic ecosystems.

    Consider this statement: “Furthermore, untilled soils can be reused for years on end with almost zero input whatsoever, making this the most sustainable way to cultivate cannabis.” Nothing could be further from the truth!

    Plants take out of the soil what they need to reproduce. That’s the entire goal of ANY plant, even cannabis. It takes a certain amount of the minerals needed by the plant to grow leaves, roots, stems, flowers and seed/fruit. This is a basic mathematical equation: minerals needed to grow = minerals extracted from the soil. Of the minerals removed from the soil, some are returned when the roots, stems and leaves compost on top of the soil. These nutrients are returned to the soil and will be available for the next crop.

    Concerning the term “no-till,” we need to clarify how this actually works in the real world; it’s not “no-till” but rather limited till. In large scale agriculture, the previous year’s crop residue is incorporated into the top 3″-4″ of topsoil so that the biology in the soil can digest it, releasing the nutrients for the current year’s crop. If you leave the residue on top of the soil much of it will break down into carbon dioxide and will leach into the atmosphere or will become so dehydrated that it will basically be mummified. Incorporating the residue into the topsoil drastically speeds up the process.

    So what does a limited till cannabis growing system look like? If you are growing outside, the grower would complete the following checklist:
    1. Take soil samples and send them off to a commercial lab.
    2. Amend the soil as needed. This usually means adding lime (either with or without magnesium), rock powders for trace minerals, organic fertilizer, mature compost, earthworm castings along with whatever other minerals are missing or in short supply such as copper, iron, manganese, sulfur, boron, molybdenum etc…
    3. Minimally till the amendments into the top 3″-4″ of topsoil
    4. Install plastic mulch* and drip tape if you are looking to reduce water usage and control weeds
    *If you don’t want to use plastic mulch plan on applying wheat straw or other mulch material
    5. Plant you cannabis plants and grow as normal

    If you are growing in containers you simply test your old growing medium in the pot (same as above) and amend as needed by mixing your fertilizer, lime, minerals etc…into the top 3″-4″ of soil in the contain and plant as normal.

    One other option for container grown systems is to recycle your growing mix between grows by dumping all the material into a pile, adding your amendments along with some diluted molasses and compost the mixture. This will get rid of most pests, increase the biology in the soil and reduce your costs. This is not recommended unless you are very familiar with the practice and are comfortable with possible contamination from previous infestations of insects and disease.

    Please do not take my comments personally as it is not my intent to insult anyone. I just know what I’m talking about and want to encourage everyone to grow cannabis in whatever manner they want to.

    I welcome any comments on this post. I can be reached at: gaziger@gmail.com

    • Meh

      Yes, yes you do know what you are talking about! Maybe you should have written this article… 😉

      • Alex Dubois

        I could but for the fact that the state where I live maintains a very dim view of the “sacred plant” at this time at least. My point was that whoever wrote the article doesn’t know what they are talking about. Growing cannabis is no different than growing any other plant. Principles are the same and the requirements are the same. Plants need nutrients and you have to provide them. Even if the soil is perfect, eventually you have to replace what you take out.

  • disqus_queenbee_1

    Laying down a layer of mulch year after year will make a wonderful garden with natural trace minerals.It needs to be ground up branches and twigs ,etc.The garden of eden is a great video to watch.

    • Alex Dubois

      Maybe you know something I don’t but I’ve never seen wood chips that contained all the minerals a plant needs in the necessary amounts and in the correct ratios. Is mulch good for the soil? Absolutely. But the concept that all you need to add to soil is compost was popular about 100 years ago, but has since been disproved. There is NO substitute for taking a good soil test that determines what is in the soil and what is missing. The same concept holds for adding “rock dust” with no analysis. What is in the dust? What kind of rock is the dust from? How large are the particles? Etc… I sell a trace mineral clay (so the particles are incredibly small) that is lab tested so we know what is in it. It has been proven to raise the Brix in cannabis and increase the THC. Growing plants is the most complicated endeavor in the world that most people think is easy.

      • disqus_queenbee_1

        I couldn’t have said it better.Adding a layer of mulch on top of a pile of rocks doesn’t do diddly squat.

  • Bob Skilnik

    This technique doesn’t make sense to me.